The St. Lawrence University football team suffered its first Liberty League loss of the season on Saturday, as Springfield College used a dramatic second half comeback to defeat the Saints 21-20 in Springfield, MA. Sophomore tailback Maurice Irby rushed for 97 yards and two scores for the visitors, while Louis Fenaroli scored the late touchdown for the Pride.
St. Lawrence (5-2, 3-1), coming off of its bye week, led 13-0 at halftime behind senior Zane Fish, who replaced junior quarterback Mike Lefflbine due to an injury sustained on the opening drive. However, the Pride (4-3, 1-3) seized the momentum by returning the second half kickoff for a touchdown and sealing the win late thanks to several impressive plays by quarterback Tim O'Brien.
Both teams finished with 15 first downs in the game, with St. Lawrence holding a 309-255 edge in total offense. Special teams proved to be huge, as the Pride not only had a kickoff return for a score, but blocked an extra point early in the game that proved to be crucial. First-year student Alec Dietch led all defensive players with nine tackles, while James Holley-Grisham had an interception for the Saints as well.
St. Lawrence grabbed an early 6-0 lead thanks to a drive dedicated to Irby, who carried the ball seven consecutive times. With the offensive line opening big gaps, the Freeport, NY native gashed the Pride defense and capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown scamper. However, the blocked extra point would keep the score at 6-0 with 4:31 to play in the quarter.
The Saints' defense was sharp in the half as well, forcing O'Brien's offense off the field with three straight three-and-outs to open the game. Though the Pride would threaten midway through the second quarter at the Saints' 26-yard line, captain Shane Hart and Cooper Keller would stuff Austin Bateman on a 4th-and-1 rush to force a turnover on downs.
A roughing the kicker penalty against Springfield would keep the ensuing St. Lawrence drive alive with 2:00 minutes left in the half, and Fish would capitalize. After an 18-yard run by Irby, Fish found Evan Shifley for 27 yards and Max Johnson for 13 more down to the Pride 2-yard marker. Irby finished the drive from there, running off the right tackle into the end zone for a 12-0 lead with only :26 seconds left until intermission. Collin Shapiro's extra point was good for a 13-0 lead at the break.
Joe Festo would ignite the comeback for Springfield, as he took the opening kickoff in the third quarter 77 yards for a Pride touchdown, cutting the deficit to 13-6. Tyler Rouse's extra point made it 13-7. However, O'Brien would turn the ball over on the next two Springfield drives, throwing the interception to Holley-Grisham and fumbling at the Saints' 41 when Jayson Leigh jarred the ball free.
St. Lawrence would again capitalize on the mistake, as Fish used play action on 3rd-and-1 from the Springfield 45, finding Max Johnson wide open over the middle for a 45-yard touchdown pass with 7:13 left in the third quarter. Shapiro's extra point made it 20-7.
With Springfield backed up at their own 7-yard line, it appeared the Saints were in great shape to inherit great field position if they could get a stop. Unfortunately, O'Brien had other ideas. He orchestrated a 12-play, 93-yard drive that included three third down conversions including a 3rd-and-17, and he capped the drive with a 1-yard rushing score. Rouse added the extra point to cap the third quarter scoring with St. Lawrence hanging on to the narrow 20-14 lead.
St. Lawrence needed a field goal to go up by two scores midway through the fourth and had the ball to the Springfield 23 facing a 2nd-and-8. However, a high snap sailed way over Fish's head and was eventually recovered by Irby at the Saints' 48. The 29-yard loss, followed by a 12-yard punt would give Springfield and O'Brien solid starting position at the home team's 33-yard line.
Just as it appeared the Saints had forced a 4th-and-long, a 15-yard late hit penalty against the visitors would give new life to Springfield with a 1st-and-10 at the St. Lawrence 31. The rushing attack of the triple option took over from there, and the Pride eventually punched the ball into the end zone with 2:34 remaining on a rush up the middle by Fenaroli. Rouse's extra point gave the home team its first lead, 21-20.
Fish and the Saints' offense needed to get in field goal range, and were on the move thanks to a rush by the quarterback to Springfield's 45-yard line with 1:15 to play. Facing a 3rd-and-1 with no timeouts, the Saints rushed to the line of scrimmage and Fish tried to find his tight end, but instead through the ball into the waiting arms of Springfield defensive lineman Umberto DiMeo, whose interception sealed the victory for the Pride on their "Homecoming Weekend."
Fish finished 13-of-22 passing for 158 yards, while Lefflbine was 3-for-3 in his one series of action. O'Brien finished only 4-of-7 passing for Springfield for 82 yards, but did rush for an additional 65 yards to lead his team in that category.
St. Lawrence will look to get back on track next weekend when it hosts the WPI Engineers at Leckonby Stadium where the Saints are a perfect 3-0 this season. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00pm.